I am feeling so grumpy and anti-social! I don’t want to go anywhere or talk to anyone. I am a walking dark cloud of bad temper.
Andres and Patty, my son and his pregnant girlfriend, moved out of our house and into the condo we purchased for them a week ago. I helped them move, and my husband spent most of his weekend changing the locks, making sure the screen door closed properly, fixing the leak in the shower, and making sure the heating system worked properly. (Besides being easy-going and sweet-tempered, my husband is a mechanical genius.)
A&P are also sweet, and appreciative, as well as very talkative. And needy! They need a lot of help: logistical, practical, transportational (not a word, but it should be), emotional and financial support. That’s okay and so understandable. But yikes, I have had enough!
I know that it’s really my fault that I’m so fed up. For the three months they lived with us, and especially the last month, I did a poor job of setting and maintaining boundaries. I did not explain that I need a lot of quiet, reflective time, that I don’t like to talk in the morning, that I need time to work and write without interruption. I wasn’t clear about when I did and did not want to be available. I didn’t advocate for my own needs.
I believe in boundaries, but they are still hard for me in general–as they are for so many of us, I know. And I realize now that they are especially hard for me when it comes to Andres. I have been thinking about why that is, and here’s what I have come up with so far:
- Because he has some social awkwardness, people aren’t always nice to Andres. That makes me both angry and sad, and in response, I have set myself up to be the person he knows he will always be safe with, the person who makes space for him to be the way he is. And I probably take that to extremes, no matter the cost to my own peace of mind.
- He’s forgetful and unfocused and disorganized, and I take on the responsibility of either being his patient reminder or remembering and organizing things for him. It’s one thing to do this for a small child, but it’s more complicated and onerous to do it for an adult.
- Although Andres is an adult, many of his reactions can be childlike. When he is disappointed or has hurt feelings, he looks and acts like a kid who has had his feelings stepped on. This triggers my maternal instincts, to protect and comfort him. I don’t feel this way with my other son, who surely experiences disappointments and hurt feelings as well but doesn’t seem to need the same support (or he processes it with his fiancé, not his mom).
Looking at the big picture, I see it’s mom guilt at work. Mom guilt, with all its unrealistic ideas about how, as a mother, I have to do everything perfectly, have to always protect and support and comfort my child, with unfailing grace and patience. It’s an impossible standard to set for myself.
And honestly, it’s not even helpful to Andres. If I always soothe his upset emotions, how does he learn to do it himself? Sure, it’s harder for him than for many people. But he’s a grown up. He has a partner. He’s going to be a father. Being available to him all the time is not good for me, clearly, but it’s not good for him either.
Still, that unrealistic ideal is there, and it’s powerful. And there might be some extra twist to it, something like: he is the innocent child affected by his autism and whatever other condition or disability he might have, and I am (supposed to be) the sainted, eternally patient and endlessly understanding mother. Of course I’m not that, and I can’t be that, but I still feel I should be. And that makes me reluctant to set boundaries and put limits on the amount of time and attention and money I have to give.
The result it that my focus on what Andres and Patty need has caused me to lose touch with my own needs, my own core self. So now some fed up part of me is running around in my head, internally screaming, “Back off! Just leave me alone!” to the whole world. I mean, I don’t say it aloud to anyone. I am much too polite and well-bred for that (snort). But my anti-social actions, my cancellation of plans, my slowness to respond to texts, my resistance to even checking my email, my inability to get work done–those are my subversive ways of communicating my desire to be left the fuck alone.
So, what do I need right now? (That was a question E used to ask me in therapy sessions, after I had vented about something that was driving me crazy: “What does the overworked / exhausted / aggravated part of you need right now?“)
I mean, of course I need some time alone. But deeper than that, what I need that time alone for is the opportunity to reconnect to my core self, that wisest part. I have been ignoring and overriding it for three months now, but I know it’s still there. I firmly believe that we all have it, all the time, though we can get out of the practice of paying attention to it.
For the past few days, since Andres and Patty moved out, I have been wasting my time alone. I have watched TV and played games on my phone and listened to podcasts. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but I have done them too much. I have used them as yet more strategies for avoiding connecting with myself. Why, I wonder? I know I need that reconnection, but I avoid it. I suppose I know that there may be some painful emotions that want to emerge, once I pay attention.
I can imagine that Avoidance is yet another of the occupants of my internal emotional “house,” where I have decided there is a place for every part of me. I can imagine that my Inner Wisdom (my core self), talks to her, “Hi, Avoidance, you know I really appreciate your efforts on my behalf. You have been trying to spare me some of the raw emotions that might come up if I were to make the space to attend to my inner world. You think you are making things easier for me. But you know, I’ve learned to deal with difficult emotions. Maybe I don’t enjoy them all, but I can tolerate them. And usually I feel better when I let them come up and sit with me for a while. So while I appreciate all the work you have done in recent days (weeks, months) to hel me check out from what’s going on inside of me, can I ask you now to step back for a bit?”
I suppose what I’m saying is that it’s time
to stop to reduce the avoidant behaviors and restart some of the self-care behaviors that help me hear the core self. Less TV, more journaling. Less junk food and more meditation. Less time on phone apps, and maybe just a little bit of time back on my mat (oh, I have sorely neglected my yoga practice).
It’s okay to feel grumpy and depleted and overwhelmed and anti-social for a while, especially after three months of living with a young couple very different from my husband and myself. I don’t have to beat myself up for my grumpiness, nor for my weak boundaries, nor for my avoidant behaviors. These are common human patterns, and I am a common human.
But I don’t choose to continue these patterns going forward. Or at least not to the degree I have been. At least some of the time, I’d like to be more intentional and put some time into listening to my own deepest wisdom. If I really do that, maybe I won’t feel like I want to shout at others to Go away for heaven’s sake! Maybe a replenished self will be better able to tolerate the noise and chaos, the needs and the charm and the vulnerability of others.
CREDIT: Photo by Inspa Makers